Yes Appreciation Day

I’m thinking about having a Yes Appreciation Day.  In all actuality, our particular household might need more than one day—maybe as many as a dozen.  Yes, an even dozen.

I feel like I’m being relatively reasonable, mostly accommodating and even somewhat selfless.  All to no avail.  They just want more.  They always. Want. More.

I know I’m not alone in this plight.  I see the slumping shoulders and the resigned-to-martyrdom looks in your eyes.  I hear the whining, nagging and pitiful woundedness in your voices.  We must not resort to such petty behavior!  We must simply band together in a united effort to increase awareness and to prohibit further entitled behavior.

Which brings me to my point:  Yes Appreciation Day.

This will be a day in which there are no yesses.  They will hear no, no, no all day long.  From morning ‘til night, “no” will resound!

“No, I will not provide breakfast this morning.”

“Out of shampoo?  No, I will not buy you more.”

“No, I will not overlook the eyeroll you just gave me.”

“No, no television today.”

“No, you may not use my wheelbarrow to get the four 50-lb. bags of feed out to the barn.  Bundle up!  It’s cold!”

“No, I will not go over dividing decimals with you for the fifth time this month.”

“Sorry, no computer time.”

“No, I will not drive you to work today.”

“Ummm…no, I will not share my chocolate-hazelnut biscotti with you.”

“No, I will not replace the pants you’ve outgrown.  Besides, we may have flooding.”

“Nope.  You may not borrow any of my books today.  Even the one you were reading yesterday that left off at that really good part.”

“You want to run a load of laundry?  Sorry.  No one but me is using any appliances today.”

“You need tape?  White-out?  Scissors?  A stapler?  The printer?  Toothpicks?  Paper towels?  Lotion?  A fork?  Running water?  Sorry…but…no.”

My theory is that if enough of these Yes Appreciation Days are strung together firmly and without any waffling whatsoever, a return to the routine of thoughtful yesses will be much more highly valued.

Wouldn’t that be fun?!

Who am I kidding?

I know that parenting isn’t about fun.  I also know that it isn’t about being liked or disliked.  It isn’t always about yesses and nos, and it isn’t always about teaching someone a lesson.  Sometimes, the person who most needs to learn the lesson is me.

I feel like there’s a lesson I need to learn in this.  What am I taking for granted?  What example am I setting?  When am I keeping score, and what is my goal?  Are my expectations reasonable?  Is there a deeper need that I’m missing, or is this a character flaw that needs exposed…in them or in me?  I don’t always know.

I wish I knew the answers as soon as I needed them.  I wish I didn’t make so many mistakes.  I wish I didn’t hold so tightly to some things, and I wish I hadn’t let others go.

The fact of the matter is that wishing will get me nowhere.

Lord, please give me the wisdom I need to raise these children according to Your plan.  They are so bright!  So amazing!  So helpful and talented and creative and generous!  They are so capable—so completely captivating to my heart.  And they’re human.  Just like their parents, these precious children are incredibly human.  There are times when I’m tired.  And hurt.  And uncertain and insecure.  There are times when I think I will surely burst a blood vessel if I am asked that same question one more time…or if I hear a ridiculous argument erupt again…or if I have to address the fact that the dog’s water bowl is still empty.  Please help me to respond with wisdom and in love.  Not to lash out.  Not to berate.  Not to give up and just ignore bad behavior.  Help me to choose my battles wisely and with eternity in mind. 

And, Lord, like I’ve prayed hundreds of times over the past 16 ½ years, thank You for letting Your grace cover over my mistakes. 

My Favorite Things

I was recently invited to be the guest speaker at a ladies’ tea party.  The event was a community outreach, and the theme was “My Favorite Things”.  Various women in the church hosted a table then invited other women to fill the seats around that table.  Each table was decorated by the host, and guests voted for their favorite table display.  A light luncheon was served along with a variety of hot teas and a hot chocolate bar.  Music was provided by a local group and I was to speak on my favorite things.

I love the idea of this luncheon, because it is so personal for those who are invited.  Each woman is specifically asked to be there as the guest of someone with whom they already have a connection.  The planning committee was warm and gracious, and the atmosphere was relaxed and fun.

In preparation to speak, it was good for me to ponder upon my favorite things.  There is so much of life that I enjoy, but I found it beneficial for me to really meditate on those things that can be considered my favorites.  Because I was asked to keep my presentation between 20 and 30 minutes, I left a lot of things out.  Like my extended family, my pets, getting mail and Alaska.  I had to draw the line somewhere.

Here’s what I came up with:

My husband, Dave.  We celebrated 21 years this month.  He is patient, forgiving and hard-working.  Even though we had some significant trouble early in our marriage, we mostly live at peace now—especially when I resist the temptation to micro-manage him.

My kids.  As of this month, I have three teenagers in my house.  They are fun and funny (and sometimes frustrating).  It is exciting to see them grow in their giftings while learning to manage (or not) their weaknesses.  I see a lot of myself in them…and I see a lot of what I wish I’d done differently.

Our home.  We call it Country Haven, and it is my safe place in the middle of nowhere.  We have big gardens, a few animals, a young orchard, a big front porch and a warm woodstove.  At any given time, there are a dozen (at least) projects in the works, but we keep plugging away.  It is mostly a place of peace—one of the gifts Dave and I most wanted to give to our children.

Food.  I have loved baking since I was a little girl.  I learned to enjoy cooking as a necessity.  Most recently, I have come to appreciate growing and raising our own food as a means to an end.  And then there’s eating.  I have been highly genetically engineered to love to eat.  It’s a family tradition.

Managing my resources.  This may sound strange to some, but it’s true.  I kind of look at my family as my employer.  I manage our resources here at home in order to generate income for our family.  Sometimes the income generated is money for our homeschooling needs; more often the income fuels our bodies with healthy foods.  We work to live within our means, which isn’t always easy, but it sure makes life simpler.  I did not used to love this aspect of adulthood, but I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I now do.  I see it as an answer to prayer.

Naps.  I loved my kids’ naps when they were little, and I love my own power naps now.  Most people are more pleasant when well-rested; I’ve learned that my family prefers me to be pleasant.

Teaching, writing and sharing.  I have done some really dumb things in my life.  Like, seriously dumb things.  I have also done a lot of things that just didn’t work–as well as a lot of things which have.  I like sharing about all of these.  I enjoy encouraging others to focus on their own personal abundance of resources—their talents, abilities, time and money.  I believe that our culture prefers to encourage us to play the victim card, and I believe that recognizing the power of personal choice and responsibility can free a person to be who God has created them to be.  Whether it’s a class on cooking, canning, gardening, saving money, home management or parenting, I like sharing what has worked for me.

Change in seasons.  Each season holds wonder for me, and I embrace each one for what it offers.  Dave threatens to move south when he retires.  I’ll miss him.

Time with friends.  Whether it’s a cup of something hot to drink, long walks, dinner out, chit-chats, laughter, commiseration, heart-to-hearts or even the occasional hand smacks, I treasure my time with friends.  Though I prefer to do the smacking through the leading of the Holy Spirit, sometimes God uses a friend to smack my hand in regard to a particular issue.  This is not always comfortable, but it is necessary for personal growth.  I had my hand smacked over coffee with a friend a couple of weeks ago, and I wrote her a thank-you note.  I want to grow in my faith.  I want to be a better wife and mother and friend.  This is easier to do when I’m willing to take a good, hard look at what I’m doing (or not doing) and measure it against what God has said in His Word.  Sometimes, I find that I’m at peace with my choices; sometimes I find that I need to change something.  I am thankful for friends that speak the truth in love and for the maturity that allows me to weigh their words against the words of Jesus.

Though there are lots of good things in my life, things are not perfect.  I have real struggles with things like broken relationships, addictions, regrets, tight budgets, insecurities and misunderstandings.  Sometimes, I don’t feel appreciated, understood, valued or even loved.  In these times, I struggle with the temptation to focus on the yuck.  Part of me wants to lash out, part of me wants to pull in, part of me wants to somehow even the score.   Sometimes, I just want to check out of the situation altogether and quit trying.

Then I remember Jesus.

I remember the healing He brought to my marriage 18 years ago when we were one signature way from divorce and humbly re-committed our relationship to Him.

I remember the joy He has brought to my life through parenting.

I remember the cycle of abusive, angry behavior He is working on breaking with me.

I remember the times I just didn’t think that I could take one more day of the rejection, the disapproval, the regret.

I remember the times He has looked so deeply into my ugliness, seeing the utter blackness of my darkest thoughts and most hidden moments, and loved me in spite of them.

I remember the obedience of a young couple, the birth of their perfect baby, the patient determination of a carpenter’s son, the cruelty of the cross and glory of the resurrection.

Loving and being loved by Jesus are my most favorite things.

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More Like Marta

Some time ago, I wrote about how we rescued Marta from the bottom of the pecking order among our egg-laying flock.  She lived in the woods for a while, making occasional appearances, while she recovered both physically and emotionally from the trauma her feathered “friends” inflicted.  She has now taken up residence in our barn, and she remains a gentle and friendly bird.

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We have discovered that Marta is at least partially blind.  She responds to audible cues much better than visible.  As a matter of fact, we occasionally startle her when we’re working in the barn.  The other day, after helping my son, Isaac, settle his turkeys into their winter home, Marta was under foot during the process.  I moved her to the other side of the gate so she didn’t get stepped on.  I then turn around, and she’s nose-to-beak with our tortoise-shell cat, Patches.  Just calmly checking each other out.  Marta has allowed both of our adult dogs and one of our puppies the same privilege of up-close-and-personal examination.

On our little farm, we don’t typically encourage freeloading.  This was a certain unnamed party’s concern once Marta moved into the barn.  I pleaded her case, though, and she was given a reprieve.  The icing on the cake is that my oldest daughter discovered where she is laying her eggs.  Good girl, Marta.

I have occasionally wondered if Marta harbors any ill will toward her former coopmates.  They were awfully hard on her–irrationally so.  She doesn’t seem to hold any grudges as she pecks and scratches along the outside border of their confines.  She might appear to gloat a little bit from time to time, but that certainly seems forgivable under the circumstances.

If only more of us were like Marta–willing to leave the flock behind when what they do threatens to destroy us.  Willing to carve out an existence on our own, independently forging our own way.  Willing to give back out of gratitude when we can and staying calm even when the circumstances are a little bit scary.  Willing to not let bitterness change us into something ugly and unforgiving.  Willing to take the high road.

Staying Alive

November is traditionally a bad month for American turkeys.  The vast majority will soon  sacrifice their lives for our dining pleasure on the fourth Thursday of this month.

Thankfully, for these guys (and girls), they are not in the majority.

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Last July, my son decided to buy seven baby turkeys as an investment.  We did careful research on varieties and care, and we opted for a couple of heritage breeds that came with promises of gentleness and friendliness.  Some folks may wonder why we’d want to be friends with our future food, and I understand that.  It just makes the handling much less difficult.  Turkeys get big, and their beaks and toenails are nothing to sneeze at.  Friendly and gentle is good when you have to get up close and personal with them on a twice-daily basis.

Back to July.  After some Divine intervention in getting our truck started, my son and I headed out to meet a couple of friends for the 45-minute drive to the turkeys’ house.  (It takes a special kind of friend to be excited about picking up baby turkeys, and we had chosen just the right family!)  The poultry pick-up went smoothly.  The babies were adorable, and we got all of our questions answered by the very helpful and knowledgeable turkey lady.  We were soon back on the road with a peeping crate of seven fluffballs.

Long story short, the turkeys have been a pretty easy venture.  (We are down to six, but that’s a story for another time.)  Even though my son is their primary caregiver, I peek my head in to their movable coop from time to time just to talk turkey.  They make the most interesting sounds–much softer and more musical than the gobble alarm with which we are all familiar.  They are so naturally curious that any new thing gets their thorough observation.

Yesterday we moved the turkeys to their winter quarters in the barn.  I was a little nervous about how the disruption would affect them–especially the toms who probably weigh about ten pounds at this point.  Things actually went very smoothly, though, and they were soon settled into their new home, curiously checking out every corner and making quick work of all of the spiders.

I went in the house and my son stayed outside to finish moving feeders and to clean the turkey’s waterer.  He soon runs in to tell me that the turkeys have already escaped.  Yikes!  Eventually, we want them be able to free-range in our pasture, but they need to come to terms with their new sleeping quarters first.  Turkeys will automatically go in to roost at dusk, but they must first know where it’s safe to roost.  We planned to confine them to their new pen for a week or so–making sure they know that this is their home–before opening the door and allowing them out during the day.

My daughters and son and I all hurried outside to herd turkeys.  Upon arrival, we discovered that it wasn’t as bad as we had thought.  All six birds were just roosting on top of the gate to the pasture.  Two of the kids went around to the outside and gently pushed each bird back into the pen.  We then caught each one and clipped their wings.  I won’t say that this was particularly easy or enjoyable work, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been with more aggressive turkeys.  I felt bad taking my scissors to such beautiful feathers, but it really is safer for the birds at this point.  If you know anyone who wants to make a feathered headdress, I might be able to help ’em out.

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My son hopes to butcher and sell a few of the birds for profit this Christmas or even for Easter.  Since they were born so late in the season, they’re just not quite big enough to be anyone’s showstopper this Thanksgiving.  I would kind of like to keep a pair, though–a tom and a hen–for breeding.  Not only do I hear that their eggs are fairly valuable, but I think turkeys would be a nice addition to our little farm.

Sometimes, we try something new and it really, really works.  Sometimes, it really, really doesn’t.  For now, these turkeys seem to be working for us.  Either way, we are certainly working for them.  They’ve got at least a month on almost every other turkey in these united states.

Fall Food

Fall is my favorite time to cook.  We have an abundance of high-quality, low-cost ingredients on-hand and I feel good about spending the time to actually putter around in the kitchen with them.  During the summer months, when our gardens are at peak production, we eat well…but without much time invested.  We harvest what’s ready and slice it, grill it, roast it or steam it and that’s pretty much the extent of things.  There’s very little baking, very little time actually spent making something out of all of those amazing ingredients.

Once most of the harvest has been frozen or shelved, though, things are different.  I can feel good about spending time on actual recipes, dishes that have multiple steps–making sauces, layering flavors, taking the extra time that has eluded me since April or May.  Plus, the temperatures are cooler and the heat from the oven doesn’t seem quite so insidious.  Instead, it beckons me with aromatic memories of crusty breads, hearty meatloaves, tender briskets and caramelized vegetables.  Sigh.

Today has been such a morning.  I’ve been turning out food left and right:  maple-glazed butternut squash, chili-rubbed sweet potato fries, sausage fajitas, oatmeal-jam bars, chunky applesauce.  Almost all of these things have major components that we raised right here on our little hobby farm, and it just feels really good.  Whether the food is staying here or being taken to folks with new babies, I feel like it has been a labor love.  Truly.

I confess that I did not feel so warm-and-fuzzy six weeks ago when I was sweaty and exhausted and sore and dirty almost all of the time.  There were many nights that I wished a pizza fairy would delivered a highly-processed-hot-and-ready pizza pie directly to my tailgate so that I could wolf it down without having to even leave the garden.  And, from past experience, I can tell you that I will not feel quite so rosy about our homegrown fare once March rolls around and we are down to the ever-present frozen corn, canned green beans and stewed tomatoes.  But, even then, it feels good to not have to think about what’s for supper.  It feels good to live well within our means.  Even then, when we sit down to vegetable soup or green beans, sausage and potatoes for the fourth time that month, I am thankful.  Ever-conscious of having so much more than so many others.  Ever-grateful for the land, the energy and the opportunity to grow good food for my family and friends.

Now, though, we feast with friends and we feast with family, sharing the beautiful, flavorful bounty of another abundant season.  Thank You, Lord.

The Mysterious Marta

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Meet Marta.  She is the lone Buff Orpington that survived out of the six babies I ordered just over a year ago.  Her companions succumbed to a variety of mishaps–disease, predators, drowning and more disease.  It was a rough year.  Marta alone has survived.

And not happily.

The Black Sexlinks we ordered in with her inexplicably turned on her earlier this year, venting all of their cooped up anxieties upon her.  The pecking order is real, folks.

The back of Marta’s head and neck were bald from abuse, and the flock eventually drew blood.  My son had been telling me how brutal the sexlinks had become.  I kind of blew him off, telling him that nature revolves around survival of the fittest and that Marta would be okay as long as she stayed out of their way.  Generally, the hens that are lowest in the pecking order eat last, drink last and basically need to give the powers that be a wide berth to avoid conflict.  Things don’t usually get that bad with hens of the same age.

While on the riding mower, I witnessed the exceptional brutality of this particular flock.  As Marta exited the coop to get a drink, the flock of five black-and-white birds raced up from the other end of the run and charged at her, piling on while Marta hunkered down and took their abuse.  The flock went at her, pecking until her comb was partially detached from her scalp.  I got to her as quickly as I could and scooped her up, resisting the urge to bully the bullies.  I pulled Marta out of the chicken run and released her into the yard.  She stumbled in slow circles for a time before eventually kind of flopping down onto a pile of cut grass.  She looked completely beaten.

I told the kids we would just leave Marta out during the day and put her in the coop each evening after the others had gone to roost for the night.  Chickens are practically comatose in sleep, so I was sure she would be safe as long as we put her in late and got her out early.  We did that for two nights before Marta wandered off onto the back part of our property.

She did not come home that night.

I do not usually get emotionally invested in my chickens.  Their purpose is to feed us–either directly or indirectly.  I have little room for sentimental attachments to my food.  The problem with Marta was that she reminded me of someone.  In the hopelessness of her situation, I was reminded of the ugliness of humanity.  How many times have I seen vulnerable, broken people all but destroyed by their peers?

Far too many.

Why do we do that to one another?  Why do we single out the one who is alone, who is different, who is already wounded and peck, peck, peck at them until they seemingly give up on ever getting something better?  We steal the hope from their hearts and the light from their eyes all in the name of…what?  Power?  Boredom?  Insecurity?  Fun?

Two days passed and one afternoon our puppies started barking like crazy.  I looked out, and there was Marta, strolling into the yard from the back pasture.  I thought she must need water or food or something, so I took some out to her.  But, no.  She was just checking in.  She looked happy (for a chicken).  Healthy.  The time away had done her some good.

I was ready to tuck her back into the coop again during the night, but she disappeared again at dusk.  I honestly have no idea where she went, and considering that we’ve trapped 11 raccoons in our barn in the past few weeks, I was not optimistic that she would continue to survive in the wilderness.  But, at least she wasn’t being terrorized by her own, right?

That was two days ago, and Marta made an appearance in the yard again today.  She came up to say “hello” and to peck up a few tasty bugs here and there.  When I looked out an hour so later, she was again nowhere to be found.

I am well aware of how ridiculous it sounds for someone like me to wax poetic about a hen-pecked hen…but I cannot help but feel that surely there is a lesson to be learned from Marta.

Surely qualities like compassion, forgiveness and mercy are not for the birds.

Change of Plans

Well, it’s raining.  And it’s been raining since about 6:45 this morning.  This beautiful water removed two garden chores–weeding and watering–off my list for the day.

Delightful.

Yes, the weeds will still need pulled, but these few hours of rest have been well-earned and are greatly appreciated.  My little work crew and I have busted our behinds in the gardens this week.  The temperatures were mild, which made the work relatively pleasant.  Because of our efforts, things are in pretty good shape, and we can enjoy this little break.

I even get a long-awaited massage this afternoon from a friend who bartered services with me late last winter.  Every arm, shoulder, neck and leg muscle in my body aches from this week’s activity, and I know the massage will hurt.  I’m looking forward to it.  It will feel good to have her help in getting the soreness worked out of my body.

Life is sometimes like that.  It hurts to rub out the pain.  Sometimes, we even hesitate to do what we need to do to deal with the aches in our hearts.  Confrontation.  Conflict resolution.  Confession.  Counseling.  Changing our behavior.  These things are not often easy.

But.  God is faithful.  He is willing to restore us.  To rebuild us.  To reshape us and to rehabilitate us.  We are not expected to do these things alone.  He will restore us with His love, rebuild us with the Truth of His Word, reshape us in His image and rehabilitate us by His faithfulness.  All we have to do is make time for Him to work on us.  We have to allow Him to speak to us, offer our lives to Him in obedience and turn from the sins that so quickly derail us.

God’s always got a back-up plan for when the rain comes.